Backyard Shenanigans or, How We Saved a Fortune on Landscape DIY


For people who do not enjoy landscaping, we have a ridiculous amount of outdoor space. Our front lawn is huge and our backyard is 30 ft by 50 ft. When our kids were smaller we actually used the backyard regularly but now that they are older, we meet up with friends at the park more often than not.

So it’s no surprise that the backyard fell into chaos. Weeds were everywhere, the patio furniture has been destroyed after years of neglect, and the dog had dug craters to the centre of the earth. When we had first moved in we had tried tilling it and laying grass seed & installing an almost-free patio but we didn’t have enough to level the yard and so it ended up being a mishmash of hills and holes. Since the space was incredibly shady to begin with, the additional disarray made it even less inviting to us and so we spent less-and-less time out there.

Starting from scratch

This summer however we were asked to host a mini-reunion with Mr. Tucker’s birth family as well as host an end-of-summer for our families. Because our house is only 1200 square feet and because it was summer, it made sense to host outside. One problem: the backyard was no place anyone wanted to hang out. So taking a look at the space, Mr. Tucker decided to call around and get quotes from landscaping companies.

Those of you following along at home may wonder why his first inclination was to call around to get quotes. The truth is, given the fact I have been less mobile this summer has left Mr. Tucker with a huge chunk of running the household. Tack on the two of us working full-time plus having to get me back and forth to work, it made sense to at least investigate farming the task out. It was also a good starting point for comparison.

The considerations

We didn’t want anything fancy, pavers were fine for the patio, the real issue being leveling the backyard and laying sod. Given how basic our request was, we thought it would be somewhat reasonable. It wasn’t. The quote? Ten thousand dollars – before tax.

$10000, really.

So Mr. Tucker dug deep and started to do research. We didn’t have time to wait for free materials to come our way, nor time to wait for grass seed to grow. We also had a timeline of three weeks. Often if you have time and patience you can save a considerable amount of money by scrounging and waiting for sales but in this case we needed to throw money at the problem.

Luckily, we did find some great deals anyway. Since we wanted to do a huge patio (10 x 30) that was definitely going to cost, even considering we were going with pavers. We also needed gravel and sand to complete the job. Then we needed topsoil and sod (enough to level a 30 x 40 space) and the tools to complete all the work – oh and it had to be completed with a minimal amount of manpower.

Sweet dreams are made of…

…a massive amount of hard work combined with time. Our project was given a 3-day timeline to include a weekend plus another day Mr. Tucker took off to lay the sod. We had four people drop in/out at various points on one weekend where they completed 90% of all the work.

The drop-off

Friday afternoon: Mr. Tucker had all the tools & the sand/gravel/patio stones delivered. My father-in-law came over and he removed all the tree stumps from the backyard. They moved/tossed the old play sets (too rusted to reuse) as well as cleaned out the yard.

This rental has everything you need to do a patio/lay sod from a stamper for patio stones to a sprinkler and hose for the sod

Saturday: Mr. Tucker and his Dad did the largest amount of the work starting early in the morning and ending late at night.

The first day they managed to dig up the section for the patio, lay the gravel and start laying the stones.

Sunday: SURPRISE! The next morning, we woke up to a torrential downpour but given that everything was rented and time was of the essence, Mr. Tucker and his dad trudged on. Of course, the best-laid pavers…I mean plans…and the original tiller would not till through the hard ground after a summer of drought. Mr. Tucker ended up taking it back and giving up on tilling. We ended up paying extra for that mistake. In the end we just ended up leveling it with a combination of topsoil in the largest holes & a barrel roller.

Working in the rain

The rain stopped about midday when a couple of more helpers showed up. So with everyone pitching in, the patio section was finished and the rest of the backyard leveled with topsoil

Monday: We had the sod delivered and Mr. Tucker, his Dad, and my dad’s girlfriend laid all the sod as well as installed some extra pavers by the door that leads to the garage.

Onto plan B

When all was said and done we had extra topsoil for our gardens, and enough pavers and gravel/sand to do a path alongside the garage that led into the backyard (about 20 ft). Mr. Tucker’s dad also scrounged us up a used gate to replace the crumbling fence that was on that side of the house. Using the old poles, he attached the gate with a couple of dollars of new hardware.

Leveled & pressed

Show me the money

All told, the entire project came down to 1/3 of the cost of the quotes from professionals AND we got patio furniture, a gazebo, and lights for the gazebo as well!

Here is a breakdown of the costs:

It’s obvious that the manpower is the largest cost of any large renovation project. If you are willing to handle the work yourself, you can save considerably. We could have saved even more money had we scrounged/borrowed the tools, had more time to lay grass seed instead of purchasing sod, and had more time to watch for sales. We lucked out on the pavers, which were on super sale, but other than that we had to work with the constraints of time and money. But this just goes to show that when you look for alternatives you can still save money even if you end up paying top dollar for supplies. Sometimes just thinking about a problem a little longer helps you tackle it in a better way.

Final thoughts

We started this project with absolutely no knowledge of landscaping. Mr. Tucker and I watched a bunch of youtube videos and spoke extensively with landscaping supply companies to determine what we needed to get the basics done. In the end, we managed to do it all in three days and our costs included new furniture!

I had given Mr. Tucker a budget of about $3000 and so we were not far off the mark. To be fair, he came in under with the landscaping job being $2317.59 but we ended up buying the gazebo and furniture, which put us over by $11.41. We would have been under had we not made the mistake with the tiller ($2945.53). So I am going to be ok with the $11.41 as in the end we got way more for the amount we ended up spending (thank goodness for end-of-season sales!).

We luckily saw a lot of rain after this

The biggest boon from projects like these is the proof that with a little research and a little hard work most projects can be tackled by laypeople. While that doesn’t encourage me to lay the wiring throughout my house, it does encourage us to take on small household projects that can save big bucks. Every single project you tackle may not be perfect and some may outright fail but the savings should be such that you can cover the odd failure.

Since next year we will be staying close to home so we can save for the house, having a nice outside space to host friends will be our primary source of entertainment in 2017. The girls can also spend time outside in the backyard helping with some gardening, playing in the sprinkler, using their scooters on the patio, or just generally enjoying being outside. Our vacation time will be spent staying home with the kids (and save on summer camp!) so our new, beautiful outdoor space will be a great place to enjoy those lazy days of summer together.

The almost-final product